This is an essay I wrote in 2004 for my first blog, El Camino Real, which is no longer online. I am posting it here for archiving purposes.
The liturgical, theological, and moral collapse within American Catholicism is much discussed and well documented in orthodox circles. There is widespread recognition that a crisis exists, even if there seems to be very little agreement as to its cause or cure. Various groups and associations have been formed with their own unique solutions, and some of them have done productive and excellent work indeed.
Yet there exists today another crisis in the Church that is barely discussed or examined at all: the crisis of community. The falling-away of many Catholics after the Second Vatican Council was tragic not only for the souls who left the Faith, but also for the souls who were left behind. Catholics who once depended upon their relatives, neighbors, and friends for social support and religious solidarity found themselves left alone in the cold. Of those who stubbornly remained with the Church, perhaps a majority were led to embrace the liturgical revolution and the new theologies. Orthodox, tradition-minded Catholics became outcasts in their own communities almost overnight. As a result of this disruption many of the faithful must look outside of their parishes and neighborhoods for solidarity. EWTN, Catholic Radio, and orthodox periodicals are primarily supported and enjoyed by Catholics who do not know each other.
For the fortunate few, non-geographical movements and religious orders have replaced the local parish as sources of orthodox teaching and example. Some find that the internet is the only place where intelligent discussion can be had with those who share a zeal for Christ and His Church. Others discover that they have more in common with their Protestant neighbors than with the modernist, dissenting Catholics in their local parish, and so they become susceptible to a kind of “conservative” indifferentism. Still others, in their extreme isolation, become vulnerable to the influence of sedevacantists and various schismatic sects.
The irony is that the destruction of Catholic community is due, in part, to the replacement of the old God-centered and vertical orientation with a new community-centered and horizontal orientation as pertaining to liturgy and parish life. Beware the law of unintended consequences! Authentic Christian community presupposes the absolute primacy of God and Church and never results when community is its own raison d’etre.
The crisis of community presents a serious problem for the Catholic family. The training and nurture of Catholic children – if it is to be effective – requires the long term influence and reinforcement of other Catholic personalities. Raising orthodox Catholic children alone in a sea of secularists, modernists, and Protestants is a recipe for confusion and alienation. Furthermore, it is essential for the health of Catholic marriages that spouses maintain friendships with members of the same sex who are strong in the Faith. The tragic absence of community, the decline of the extended family, and the contemporary demise of same sex friendship has resulted in enormous pressure for husbands and wives to fulfill each other’s every social need. Such unrealistic expectations have undoubtedly resulted in many failed marriages.
The Public Square
Although the United States was never a Catholic nation, there have long been regions, cities, and neighborhoods in our country with a strongly Catholic flavor. The influence of Catholicism in such places was strong enough to be taken seriously even by non-Catholics. Great cities like Boston, Chicago, Milwaukee, New Orleans, and San Francisco once had sizable Catholic populations which not only gave these cities a unique cultural flavor, but also provided a political and moral bulwark that could not be ignored. Things weren’t perfect – there was never an American Catholic Shangri-la – but the Church and her faithful members were not politically and culturally marginalized as they are today.
The concentration of numbers is also important from a purely missionary and evangelical perspective. It is true that individual Catholics can live holy lives and perform good works wherever they find themselves – even when isolated in non-Catholic communities. However, their non-Catholic neighbors may not ascribe their virtues to their religion unless there are other corroborating examples. The greater the numbers, the better and more effective the witness. The fact is that the Church cannot influence the culture unless there are strong geographical concentrations of committed and faithful Catholics. Such concentrations no longer exist in America on a meaningful scale.
As the world becomes increasingly hostile to Christian values, it will become more and more difficult for Catholics to work for the businesses and corporations that dominate the mainstream economy. It is therefore necessary to create an alternate economy, a network of small Catholic businesses that can employ those who are no longer willing to compromise with the emerging Leviathan, and who can conduct business beneath the radar of corporate HR departments. In order for such businesses to survive, they will need patrons and employees who live in the same area: i.e., they will need the support of large, local Catholic communities.
Stability and Culture
Culture takes time. In order for a genuine culture to develop, like-minded people must live together in one place for at least several generations. By “like-minded”, we do not mean a rigid uniformity, but a commitment to first principles, such as those supplied by the Catholic Church. By “together in one place”, we do not mean a tightly controlled commune or a fortress, but merely a region or neighborhood where there is regular and sustained interaction among the people who live there.
Culture building requires that most people inculcate a love for their region, city, or neighborhood – a loyalty to one’s home and extended family. Catholic culture is all but destroyed in our land because these things have all been lost. Those who do live together are not like-minded; those who are like-minded do not live together; and those who are like-minded and do happen to live together are not usually Catholic. We are faced, then, with the irony that rebuilding a stable Catholic culture – if it is to be done at all — will require the uprooting and resettlement of vast numbers of people. We are starting over.
What are the options?
There has long been an impulse in Christianity that favors living apart from the ungodly influences of the world. Towards that end the Church has blessed a surprising variety of communal expressions, ranging from monasticism to enclosed missionary villages. In the modern West there have been numerous attempts to create small Catholic villages based on the ideals of distributism and the teachings of papal encyclicals. However, due to extreme economic hardship and a peculiar susceptibility to personality cults, these ventures have not met with much success. More recently we have heard about a group of Protestants who want to create a Christian State in South Carolina, and a group of Libertarians who want to create a Free State in New Hampshire, but they have their mind too much on politics.
We are not proposing anything as radical or ambitious as the above. Our current economic system is a cruel master, and most forty-year old suburban insurance salesmen and business attorneys are not going to uproot their families to start over somewhere as the village butcher – even if they should. Catholic resettlement, if it is going to be anything other than a fringe movement, will have to consider modern cities with a viable economic base. Most importantly, the rebuilding of Catholic community must take place around existing orthodox parishes, and these are primarily in the cities.
To this writer, the most attractive model is that of identifying an existing community for Catholic colonization. It is critical that such a place be home to an established center of orthodox Catholic life, preferably an apostolate served by one of the traditional orders. The city should have a population between 5,000 and 50,000 people: small enough to be lovable, but large enough to make gainful employment realistic. A smaller town might be considered if located near a city with decent employment opportunities. Affordable rural acreage should be available within a short commute. One might live anywhere within a city of this size and still be no more than ten minutes away from any other place or person in town. Moreover, the cultural and political impact of, let us say, five thousand new Catholics will be far more significant in a city of 25,000 than a city of 500,000.
Another model is that of resettling specific neighborhoods around orthodox parishes in existing major cities. This seems less exciting with respect to influencing politics and the surrounding culture, but it would substantially improve community life and might eventually have a much larger impact. Daily Mass would be accessible to all. Homeschooling families and Catholic businesses would have the local support they need. The goal should be to find employment and to start new businesses in close proximity to the parish, slashing commute time and increasing time available for family, friends, and religion.
The colonization project would need a small group of pioneering families, a newsletter or website for publicity, and perhaps a relocation fund to help lower-income families with expenses. Every good thing starts small. Grandiose plans usually involve grandiose egos that eventually destroy what they sought to create. Yet it remains true that something must be done if any remnant of Christendom is going to survive the present barbarian assaults. Is this task for you? The important work of preservation will be carried out by ordinary Catholics who realize that they are not called to live as radical individualists, but as servants of Christ and members of His Mystical Body in the world. And who knows? In the process, we could witness the rebirth of Catholic civilization right here in the United States, in our own lifetimes.